Easter events are popping up all over town, and Regional Park was filled with with families on Friday night for the 12th Annual Easter Eggstravaganza. More egg hunts are scheduled in the week to come, but where did this tradition of hunting for Easter eggs come from?
To understand the custom of the hunt, we first need to know where Easter eggs got their beginning. Eggs have long been associated with springtime and renewal.
This relationship has roots in the distant pagan past when the people saw new chicks emerging from the egg as a metaphor for new life. The ancient Latin proverb “omne vivum ex ovo,” “all life comes from an egg,” perfectly describes this connection. We can look at this as a sort of “Easter egg” from the past because modern-day biology now knows it to be true.
The association with eggs and Easter can be traced back to Medieval Europe where eggs were prohibited during the 40 days of Lent leading up to the holiday.
In the weeks when they couldn’t be eaten, the eggs were often boiled or otherwise preserved to save them for the Easter Feast.
The practice of coloring eggs can trace its beginnings to the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Traditionally, the eggs were painted red to symbolize the blood of Christ. When the eggs were cracked, it was viewed as symbolic of Jesus rising from the tomb.
Egg hunting itself can be traced back to at least the 16th Century when German Protestant Reformer Martin Luther hosted hunts where the men would hide eggs for the women and children.
This tradition was brought over to America by German-speaking settlers known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. The “Dutch” children believed in an egg-laying hare called Oschter Haws.
They would leave carrots out for the hare to snack on and would build nests for it to lay its eggs. On Easter morning they would then search the grass for any other eggs it may have left behind.
As time passed, Oschter Haws evolved into the Easter Bunny, and nests have become baskets.
But the relationship to today is unmistakable in addition to the egg hunt, another popular tradition is the egg roll, with the most famous being the White House Egg Roll which takes place on the Monday after Easter.
This year will mark the 140th anniversary of the event which began in 1878 under President Rutherford B. Hayes.
It is important to note, however, that while 1878 is the year of the first official egg roll, many accounts tell of more informal gatherings that began during the Lincoln administration.